Monitoring of hospital nursing ratios measure passes House

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Hospitals would be required to file a staffing plan with the Minnesota Hospital Association and a working group at the Department of Health would study whether nurse staffing levels have any effect on patient outcomes, under a bill passed by the House Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) sponsors, HF588, which passed 73-58. It now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls) is the sponsor.

“Hopefully by the time that study is done, we will have some good valuable data compiled by the Minnesota Department of Health so that we can make some thoughtful decisions,” Atkins said.

The bill would require the chief nursing executive of each licensed hospital to develop a staffing plan for each care unit of the hospital. The plan would need to specify how many full-time nurses are needed on the care unit during a 24-hour period. Hospitals would be required to submit their plans to the hospital association by Jan. 1, 2014. The association would then post the plans on its Minnesota Hospital Quality Report website by April 1, 2014.

“I look at it as a potential unfunded mandate,” Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) said.

In addition, the hospital association would post the actual direct patient care hours per patient and per unit beginning July 1, 2014 and update it every 30 days. By Jan. 15, 2015, a Department of Health working group would be required to submit a study to legislators comparing nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes.

Gruenhagen said this would lay a foundation for mandatory staffing levels, which would take away managerial rights in hospitals. It’s a symptom of a greater problem — financial stress caused by low Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals, he added.

When the bill was introduced, it would have mandated registered nurses’ staffing ratios at state licensed hospitals and was supported by the Minnesota Nurses Association, whose members said that understaffing and overtime scheduling has become the norm rather than the exception in hospitals, and puts patients at risk.